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Macomb Township

October 24, 2012

Local artist’s paintings hold ‘hidden treasures’

By Robert Guttersohn
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
Michael Bonacci, from Macomb, sits in front of one of his paintings in which his two children’s footprints are hidden. For the last year, Bonacci has been selling paintings that incorporate children’s footprints in the portrait.

MACOMB TOWSNSHIP — Michael and Allison Bonacci moved into their home just off 23 Mile Road two years ago.

Then, the two-story house’s living room walls were bland and white.

While looking to improve the interior of the place, Allison kept asking Michael, who teaches art at Sequoia Elementary, to paint a portrait for their home.

“I married an artist, and I’ve got nothing to show for it,” Allison would say.

Like any creative profession, inspiration is kindle for artists, and inspiration was what Michael lacked. But a near messy accident while Michael was painting their bedroom changed that.

Brady, 4 and the older of their two boys, sprinted into the bedroom and almost stepped into a pan of paint.

Michael caught him before he did, but then found the inspiration that would lead to Pitter Patter Painting. “It just kind of hit me right then and there to incorporate his little footprints into a painting for our home,” he said.

At first glance, Michael’s landscape portraits are eye catching in that they incorporate broad brush strokes and bright colors to depict whimsical scenes. But the paintings become personal to clients when they realize that dotted throughout the canvas are their children’s footprints on the horizon, on a beach or in the reflection of water.

“A lot of people buy artwork at art fairs or art shows, but it doesn’t have that meaningful nature behind or it might not actually match their home. They just like the picture,” Michael said recently in his home, which is now adorned with his paintings. “The beauty of this idea is that it can be customized for your home in size and theme. And then it’s got that sentimental nature behind it with your child’s footprints hidden well throughout it.”

Although he painted the portrait incorporating Brady’s footprints two years ago, Michael and his wife Allison have treated the concept as a business for only a year so far. Since then, they have sold about a dozen pieces with very little marketing.

“We haven’t had to,” Allison said. “It’s been mostly a lot of word-of-mouth.”

That may change. Although Michael says he’d have a hard time stepping away from the classroom altogether, he’d be willing to teach part time if Pitter Patter takes off.

Michael took only one painting class in college while working toward his degree in graphic design, and he hated it. He did sketch some and worked his creative eye on a computer screen, but he rarely took a brush to canvas until the idea for Pitter Patter Painting came to him. Even today, he works in an unconventional way by setting the canvas on a chair.

“I don’t even have an easel,” Michael said with a laugh.

When he was putting together that first painting for Allison, Michael kept it a secret. Between painting sessions, he hid the canvas in a closet. Allison said when he revealed it to her on her birthday, she cried.

Hidden among a row of plants in the painting that now hangs over their bed, Brady’s tiny, gray footprints are subtle.

Michael refers to the subtle footprints in all his portraits as the “hidden treasure.”

“Their feet are that little for such a short period of time,” Michael said. “They grow so fast.”

His technique varies depending on the project. Sometimes he’ll paint a background shade first, then add the footprints of a client’s child afterward. But mostly, he’ll have an idea of what he will paint and where on a bare canvas he wants the child to walk.

“The kids love getting the paint on their toes,” Allison said.

For a man who had a hard time finding inspiration two years ago, he has found a never-ending kindle in the reactions his pieces receive.

“What I like most about it is how thrilled people are when they receive my art as a gift,” Michael said.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Robert Guttersohn at rguttersohn@candgnews.com or at (586)218-5006.